Prepare to be amazed as we take a tour of the second most expensive hotel built in the world: Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, which cost a whopping THREE BILLION dollars to construct. So why in the world did I put article in the “Budget Travel Secrets” category?
Here’s why this 5-star luxury hotel still makes it into my Budget Travel category: It is absolutely FREE to walk through and photograph the astounding architecture of the hotel’s 240-foot-tall domed atrium. If you find yourself in Abu Dhabi (or even in Dubai, which is just an hour away, and was my base during my 9-day visit to the UAE), Emirates Palace is well worth an afternoon’s visit.
As you come with me now on this photo tour of the property, take in some of these facts. The hotel opened in 2005 after three years of construction by over 20,000 workers. Pure gold and marble make up much of the decoration, and there’s even a gold vending machine in the lobby!
The back of the hotel looks out over the Persian Gulf, and has brilliantly white sand that was painstakingly imported from overseas. The private beach is almost a mile long, and features the pretty tented cabanas I photographed, below.
There are nearly 400 hotel rooms in the building, with the most luxurious ones reserved on the top floor for royalty and dignitaries only. I got to tour the fanciest suite available to the public: the Palace Suite, which, at 7,300 square feet, boasts three bedrooms (one of which is pictured above, gold dome and all), a full dining room, pictured below, and a living room. The suite costs around $15,000 a night! Click here to see current prices, though, because there’s a range across the rooms.
Emirates palace has 114 domes, including the massive central one, 1,002 chandeliers (you can see one of them sparkling above), and 102 elevators. When Christina Aguilera performed in the hotel in 2008, 15,000 people were able to fit in the venue!
As you can see from the view of the glistening Etihad Towers, below, that I took from the steps of Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi — and the UAE as a whole — lets its architects’ imaginations run wild. As an artist, it’s a feature of the UAE that I absolutely loved, and it’s certainly a feature on full display at Emirates Palace.
So what about the food, eh? Emirates Palace has 14 restaurants, and I got to eat at the one called “Le Vendome Brasserie,” a sumptuous buffet featuring cuisine from the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and beyond.
Speaking of budget travel secrets, some of the eateries at Emirates Palace, including Le Vendome, are surprisingly affordable. If you aren’t into paying $400-something a night for the least expensive hotel room, the restaurant is a good option for tasting the luxury life without the wallet punch.
So, just how “luxury life” are the restaurants of Emirates Palace? Apparently eleven POUNDS of pure gold are used each year just to decorate the food at Emirates Palace! Some of it ended up in my tummy, as I selected a gold-encrusted mini-cheesecake for dessert… along with that chocolate mousse, of course.
So, I’ve given you a whole lot of facts and figures to boggle the mind with their opulence, but what was my experience, strolling around these grounds that are luxury incarnate? The word that comes to mind is “marvel.” I was agog, marveling at the artistry and beauty of the whole enterprise.
It was very hot when visited that October, and I was five months pregnant and traveling alone, but a sweaty passion to see more and more of the gorgeous architecture pushed me to wander the grounds almost beyond the point of exhaustion, photographing everything in sight, grinning rapturously.
I have a particular fondness for Islamic architecture, with its intricate geometric patterns and rows of arches, and have adored photographing it from the Blue Mosque in Turkey, to Humayun’s Tomb in India, to La Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain.
Architecturally, Emirates Palace has succeeded in its mission of “showcasing Arabian culture.” Look at this photo, below, of the outdoor walkway behind the hotel. The intricate details that the designers put into the walls and arches make such a difference, don’t they?
Then, of course, comes the question: Did the world need three billion dollars to be spent on constructing a hotel decorated in gold? This echoes the question I posed in my earlier article about the famously opulent mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, and I’ll give a similar answer.
What has been created in Emirates Palace is a work of art, and given that it is free to tour, and creates thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tourism income, it can be seen as a gift to the eyes as well as the country it is in. (The government of Abu Dhabi owns the hotel.)
As I walked out of Emirates Palace, I passed a throng of tourists, all grinning and taking photos of the awe-inspiring dome. We smiled at each other as I went by, awash in the gold glow of the place.
So what do YOU think? Have you ever been to Emirates Palace? Would you like to? Have you seen other beautiful luxury hotels around the world that are perfect for free photo tours? Do share!
Allow me to leave you with one more view of that miraculous, gold-decorated central dome of Emirates Palace. That is a sight I will never forget!
Searching for travel that fit YOUR budget? I’ve done the search for you, so you can just click here to see deals on Abu Dhabi hotels, and here for Abu Dhabi flights. Dubai is also a great base for touring the UAE, so here is a Dubai hotel list and here are UAE flight deals. If you enjoyed this article, please consider doing your travel searching and booking through those links, as I receive a small commission to support this site, at no extra cost to you. Thanks, and happy travels!
I was a lunch guest of Emirates Palace, but all opinions, architecture awe, and gold guzzling are my own.